brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on August 29th, 2019

An ancient tale conveys the story of two fish swimming side-by-side in the ocean.

One fish says to the other, “Hey, what do you think about this beautiful blue water?”

The other replies, “What water?”

“The water you’re swimming in.”

This story is a metaphor for our relationship with the Divine. Like the ocean water that surrounds the fish and swirls through their gills, God’s Spirit surrounds us. It flows through our lungs as the Holy Spirit’s breath, holding, guiding, and sustaining us.

We are swimming in the Ocean of Divine Embrace. Our task is to become aware of it and ground ourselves in the natural life-giving relationship we have with God.

In An Ocean of Light, Martin Laird says we often experience life like the fish who didn’t realize he was in the ocean. Our cluttered minds obscure our understanding about ourselves and God. We search endlessly for something or someone outside of ourselves, hoping whatever “it” is will keep us safe and secure, and let us know we are loved.
But like the fish in the ocean, there’s nothing we need do to be held in God’s love. We’re surrounded by the Divine Embrace, swimming in an Ocean of Light. We simply awaken to its Presence allowing ourselves to be nourished by the Spirit of God that flows in and through our lungs, sustaining and guiding us.
What if we practiced becoming like the “awakened fish” and realized we’re surrounded by a beautiful Ocean of Divine Embrace?

We could stop trying to “get there” and realize we’re already “there.” We’re surrounded by a cloud of wisdom and compassion that feeds and guides us. God is our Center as we swim in Divine water.

Laird suggests practicing daily meditation to awaken to this Divine Presence. Sitting in silence for twenty to thirty minutes each day, grounding ourselves with a simple word or phrase such as love, peace, be still, or God is my Center quiets our minds and reconnects us with our souls.

This simple practice creates a receptive heart. Over time, it softens the mind, unclutters our thoughts, and anchors us with the depth and breadth of God’s Infinite Love and Wisdom.

In 2012, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, addressed the Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome with these words:

To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It [contemplation] is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

I wonder if Laird, Dr. Williams, and the awakened fish are onto something. Could the Holy Spirit be inviting us to rekindle the ancient revolutionary practice of daily quiet time and meditation so we realize we’re swimming in the Ocean of Divine Embrace?

Practice: Find Your Center. Go to your quiet space, click on this Centering Prayer link, breathe softly, be still, and experience Presence.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on August 24th, 2019

There’s a lot of anger in society these days. It’s not new. It’s been gaining steam for decades.
Some are mad at white people, who demand white privilege.  Some are mad at black people, who play the victim card. Everyone is mad at politicians who won’t focus on solutions.. Even police, our keepers of the peace, are attacking and being attacked.

When I was a kid, my dad had a simple philosophy. If you focus on the problem, the problem will increase. If you focus on the solution, the solution will increase.”  

Dad made us put those words into practice. Whenever my brother and I got into a fight, Dad took us by the shirt collar, marched us into his den, and told us we couldn’t come out until we resolved our argument.

Even though we didn’t like it when Dad ushered us into those time-out sessions, eventually my brother and I resolved our conflict, and we’d be back playing baseball in the backyard like best buddies.

What if we did the same thing with society’s conflicts? Whenever an argument arises, we march those involved into a conference room, lock the door, and tell them, “You can’t come out until you solve the problem.”

Take, for example, immigration. What if we put the open-borders people and the build-the-wall people into the same room and made them come up with a compromise?  We might start their conversation with a simple focus question, “How do we welcome immigrants into our land, but establish a fair and orderly process for doing so?”

Another conflict might be the media. We’d lock Fox News and CNN representatives in time-out and tell them, “You can’t come out of the room until you agree to report only straight facts with no spin, and if you want to give your opinion when reporting, you have to clearly mark it as an editorial, like old-school journalism used to require.”

Even the tough issue of abortion might get resolved by focusing on the solution, not just the problem. Let’s put pro-lifers and pro-abortion opponents in a time-out room and ask them to figure out when human life begins and how we care for women faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

In political philosophy class, we called it “focusing on the common good.” It might sound simplistic, but if it worked for me and my brother, it might work for society too.

Spiritual Mentor James Finley says, “Underneath anger is usually fear, and underneath fear is usually a sense of powerlessness.”

If both sides had to discuss and come up with a mutual resolution, then anger might be channeled into positive energy—and we could focus on fixing things.

Maybe a concrete way to focus on solutions instead of problems is to start with ourselves. What if we placed ourselves in time-out each day and listened quietly to the voice of love invite us to self-acceptance, to God-acceptance? If we let ourselves be embraced with Divine Love, we might accept ourselves as we are.  Maybe in the Silence we’d hear the voice of love say to our hearts, “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

From that stance, we might then take that loving acceptance into daily conflicts with others and focus on how the Divine Heart invites us to resolve our differences. We might put into practice my wife’s philosophy, who, when a conflict arises, often asks, “How can we make this work for everyone?”

There’s a solution for every problem, Dad said.  If we can move beyond anger and focus with love on the solution, we become the change we seek in the world.

Move beyond the anger. Focus on the solution and see the solution increase.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on August 15th, 2019

Spiritual teacher and writer James Finley says inner growth comes from experiencing great suffering and great love. The anonymous author of the ancient text, The Cloud of Unknowing, adds to that, saying we must first pass through the cloud of forgetting—learning from and letting go of past hurts—to move into the cloud of unknowing—that place in our hearts where, having let go of our suffering, we allow ourselves to be protected and held by the unconditional love of the Divine.

Getting there isn’t easy. After completing two years of study at the Rohr Institute for Action and Contemplation, my wife and I planned to take an afternoon tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and go hiking.

During my quiet time that morning before the hike, I stared at a gray bird feather I had found the day before. I turned it side to side. The hollow shaft with the tiny hairs protruding from it symbolized my past hurts—my frustration with the bishop who’d shut down the deacon program after I’d completed three years of studies; the loss of my father to cancer when I was sixteen; my egoic imperfections and self-doubt I wore like a chain around my heart.

It was time to let go of my past hurts. Time to quit nursing these wounds. Time for me to enter the cloud of forgetting, so I could move into the cloud of knowing God’s unconditional love. Time for me to forget so I could know.

I placed the feather in my pocket and carried it with me to the mountain. Standing at the top, gazing over the majestic rocks and lush valley far below, I knew this was the right place and time to set the feather—and my heart—free.

I raised my arms high, lifted the feather to the tips of my fingers, and let it go into an updraft of wind that soared my offering across a sun-blazed sky.  

In that moment, my heart felt free. I no longer had to think about the pain I’d felt for years. It was gone. I had released it.  I had entered the cloud of forgetting, invited by God to move into the cloud of unknowing—the heart-space beyond the mind’s understanding that allows us to be embraced by love.

Standing in the stillness of a whispering mountain wind, the word halleluiah rolled off my tongue. It was as if God had placed that word in my heart, and he and I were rejoicing as I became free like the feather that now soared across the cliffs.

Halleluiah. Halleluiah.

Let yourself forget to know.

Practice: The words of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Halleluiah,” which was the “sending” song at the Rohr Institute, capture how we move from suffering into the experience of God’s unconditional loving embrace. Take a moment to click on this link and listen to the song.  As you listen, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let the words speak to your heart.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on August 9th, 2019

A blaze of heat rose from the red-hot rocks sizzling in the pit of the sweat lodge. My throat choked on the thick, fiery air that licked the tepee walls. My nostrils burned. My blood thickened.

“Seek the other side of you,” Lakota Tom told us.

Steamy drops of sweat streamed down my bare chest and back. What does he mean, I wondered. Seek the other side of me?

My mind—and my heart—raced as the heat intensified. Am I going to have a heart attack? 
I took a deep, cleansing breath. “Stop it. Pray,” I muttered under my breath, trying to calm myself. “God be with me,” I repeated, closing my damp-soaked eyes. “God be with me.”

The words from Michael W. Smith’s song The Other Side of Me, softly vibrated in my heart:

If I were the ocean
You would be the shore
And one without the other one
Would be needing something more
We are the shadow and the light
Always love me
never leave me now
now you are the other side of me.

The song soothed my soul. Sitting in the darkness of the sweat lodge, I connected with something far beyond me. Yet, it was also within me and around me. The velvet skin of the tepee walls cradled me. I rested in the soft womb of God, comforted by the other side of me.

Seek the other side of you, Lakota Tom and Michael W. Smith remind us, because when we do, we touch the Divine—the One who is the other side of ourselves. When we pray, our human hearts seek the Divine Heart. We connect with that part of us that trusts, loves, and knows deeply. We remember we are whole—our human and Divine Self are One.

When life gets challenging, when anxiety, confusion, or fear chokes us with thick, fiery air, remember Lakota Tom words and Michael W. Smith’s song: “Seek the other side of you.

—brian j plachta

Practice: Take a few moments for yourself. Breathe in and out several slow cleansing breaths. Then click on this link and listen to the song, The Other Side of Me. Close your eyes. Let the words speak softly to your heart, as you rest in them. What words or images rise up in you?  Savor them like a rich cup of tea.

by brian j plachta on August 3rd, 2019

A teacher stood in front of her class holding a bottle of water.   “What will happen if I hold this bottle in my outstretched arm for five minutes?” she asked her students.

“Nothing,” the class replied.

“What if I hold it for an hour?”

“Your arm will get tired,” one student said.

“And what if I hold this bottle of water in my outstretched arm for twenty-four hours?”
“You’ll experience severe cramping and pain and probably have to go to the hospital.”

The bottle, the teacher explained, represents the things in our lives beyond our control. It’s like a plastic jug filled with our anxieties, resentments, and fears.  It contains the pain others have caused us we can’t or won’t let go.  It’s overflowing with the self-doubt with which we drag ourselves down.

My buddy recently sent me a link to a short video of this teacher’s classroom lesson. You can watch it by double clicking here. 

What is it that I hang onto? What weighs me down?” I pondered as I watched the teacher’s wisdom unfold.

Politics. Fear my dog Riley’s recent bout with a virus signals he’s developing cancer, and we might lose him after eleven years of his loving presence. Concern about what others think of me. Anxiety over whether the book I’m writing will actually birth itself in and through me.
The list goes on, and it changes moment-to-moment, day-by-day.  

If it’s not the driver who cut in front of me without using his blinker, then it’s a negative comment someone made about me or a loved one that launches me into a grumble-fest. Anger. Resentment. Anxiety.  Those are the byproducts of my clinging to negativity and the “what ifs?” in life.

“Drop the bottle.” That’s the solution the teacher offers.  It’s what we can do when we notice ourselves clinging to something beyond our control or when we realize we’re holding onto negative emotions. 

And we can supercharge the practice by asking God to help us let it go. We can ask God for the willingness to let go of what we can’t change and the courage to change what we can.

It’s become a standing joke with my wife and close friends.  When we notice each other grumbling about something out of our control or worrying about what might happen to this one or that one, we stop, take a moment, and remind each other, “Drop the bottle.  Let it go.” 

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on July 28th, 2019

It’s common these days to hear people say to someone who’s struggling, “I’m holding space for you.” It’s similar to the traditional “I’ll pray for you,” but this new phrase seems to have a different twist to it.

So, what does the term “holding space” mean?

Deepak Chopra defines this form of compassion as the conscious act of being present, open, and protective of what another needs in each moment. The term has grown in popularity among spiritual seekers. It’s a broadly used phrase to define the act of “being there” for another—and being there in mind, body, and spirit.

Holding space for someone suggests an interior space within our hearts in which we’ll hold a person as we walk alongside them. It’s like saying, “I’ll listen deeply to what you need. I’ll be present to you and be a blessing in your life as you journey through this struggle.”

Can We “Hold Space” for Ourselves?

If it’s such a neat idea, can we hold space for ourselves? And, if so, how?

For the last month, I’ve been stuck in my head. Anxious. The whirl of worried thoughts, along with my compulsion to complete the tasks on my never-ending to-do list, have created a squirrels’ nest in my mind. It seemed my brain was filled with a bunch of those brown fury animals chasing their tails around in circles. But, unlike the squirrels who eat nuts, I felt nuts.
I tried desperately to find a way out of my mental messiness. I created longer to-do lists. I grabbed any mantra—like “breathe peace”—to calm my anxious mind. But the squirrels kept chasing their tails.

After weeks of suffering with this squirrel-cage syndrome, I gave up and asked God for help.
With the aid of my spiritual mentor, I realized I was doing what our faith traditions and Western culture have taught us. I was trying to think my way to God and inner wholeness.
It was like I was saying to God, “I’ve got this. I’ll figure it out—whatever ‘it’ is.”  And then trying to earn God’s favor (and others’) by attempting to fix myself and everyone else. I was trying to be “Dudley-Do-It-All-Right.”

But I was on the wrong path. In my merit-based view of God, I saw him as the Divine judge ready to bop me and send me to the dungeon if I didn’t do enough  and wasn’t good enough.

But God is Divine Love. God desires to embrace us with unconditional love. 

It was time for me to let go of my image of the bookkeeping God and allow the Creator to embrace me with love.  It was time to hold space within myself for the Divine Embrace.
The Inner Elevator

That’s when a playful image arose that’s helping me make a shift in my view of God and myself.  Here’s what I imagined.

What if we have an inner elevator within our bodies connected to three floors?

Floor One: Heart Space 

The first floor is our hearts. This floor is the place of “Being”—the place where our souls are located. It’s where our human hearts connect with God’s Divine Heart. 
When we open the elevator door and step into heart-space, we find wisdom and guidance. Most important, we find God “holds space” for us to embrace us with unconditional love.

Second Floor:  Breath Space

The second floor is where our throats are located. It’s the place through which our breath flows in and through us. It contains the life-giving stream of God’s spirit connecting the first and third floors.

When we focus on our breath, we open the pathway between being and doing. We allow our minds to sink into our hearts.
The heart, breath, and mind then flow together and become a trinity.

Third Floor: Head Space.  

The third floor contains the mind. It’s the “thinking” and “doing” space.
It’s the intellectual part of us that processes information so we can make daily decisions. It allows us to create to-do lists, gather our thoughts, and move efficiently throughout the active part of our day.

Unfortunately, the thinking mind likes to be in control.  “Step aside, heart and breath. I’ve got this,” it too often shouts.

Stuck On the Third Floor

Like an elevator that malfunctions and gets stuck between floors, I often get stuck on the third floor, trapped by trying to think my way to wholeness.

But God created us with the inner freedom and ability to access all three floors: heart, breath, and mind.

Holding Space for Ourselves

Now, when I get stuck in my mind, I push the button for the first floor, let the elevator descend from my mind into my heart, open the door, and rest there. Often.
In the heart-space, I let God’s love help me quit trying to think so hard, stop trying to gain God’s favor.

I hold space for the Divine Embrace.   

-brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on July 19th, 2019

Daily meditation has been proven to help:
  • Reduce depression, tiredness, and fatigue
  • Improve attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility
  • Grow your brain and improve information processing
Sound too good to be true?

Research provides strong evidence that meditation improves psychological and physiological well-being. It not only helps us think more clearly, but it also slows down brain activity, allowing our body to calm itself.

Wow! Meditation is a game-changer!

The Inner Experience of God

So, what about the spiritual components of meditation? How does meditation impact our relationship with God and our core selves?

According to Father Thomas Keating, meditation allows us to move beyond the mere intellectual understanding of God so we can deepen our individual relationship with him. Through regular meditation practice, we develop an “inner experience” of the Holy Spirit that then guides, affirms, and teaches us how to live with inner peace and wholeness.

Keating writes in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart:

“The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from Him. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that He is part of every reality.

“The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in Him. But we hesitate to believe this until our personal experience gives us confidence to believe in it. This involves the gradual development of intimacy with God [through meditation].”

Meditation Is Not Something We Do. It’s a Way of Being.

When Father Joachim Lally teaches contemplative prayer, he likes to stress "receptivity" instead of "activity." He says, people often believe that prayer is all about our efforts, rather than God's. But Psalm 46 tells us to, “Stop striving, and know God.”

Put another way, when we meditate, our “monkey-minds” often try to take control and think our way to God—or they get stuck focusing on whatever else pops into our heads. The result? Noisy chatter.

If, instead, we view meditation as creating sacred inner space for us to listen to God, then our job is to simply show up and let the Creator have his loving way with us. It’s not something we are “doing.”  It’s “being.” Being present to the moment. Being an empty wine skin so God can fill us with whatever we need for the day.

 Creating an Empty Container

So how do we empty ourselves? How do we avoid making meditation a “doing” instead of a “being”?

There is no right or wrong way to meditate.  It comes down to what works for you. Experimenting with different practices can be the nudge God uses to find what’s “just right” for you and him.

Since the mind can only think one thought at a time, many find it helpful to have a simple container to hold the practice of being still and quieting the chatter in our heads so we can listen to God’s whisper.

Here are ways you can try to still the wandering mind.

Sacred Sounds

Simply pay attention to the sounds in and around you as a way of focusing. 
  • The sound of your breathing becomes a holy sound as you recall every breath is the breath of God breathing in and through you since the moment of birth.
  • The ordinary sounds of birds chirping outside an open window become a sacred sound as you recognize you are part of nature’s chorus praising the Divine.
  • Even the sound of morning rush hour traffic outside your window can become a litany of praise as you ponder the blessing of work that allows you and others to earn daily bread.
Sacred Word
Another popular way of centering yourself during meditation is to ask God for a word or short phrase to hold in your heart.

Simple words like love, patience, trust, or courage often anchor our minds, connecting them to our hearts as they become a sacred word or phrase.

If you receive a word or phrase during your meditation, you might jot it down on a sticky note or posting it on your to-do list to bring you back throughout the day to this rich centering practice.
Sacred Body
The quickest way to quiet the mind, one mentor taught me, is to focus on the body.
  • Place your hand on your heart. Notice its gentle beat, its warmth, and how the blood pumps to every part of your body, creating a peaceful inner flow. 
  • Do a body scan starting from your head to your toes. Notice how each member of your body performs a unique act that allows you to function as a vital human. 
  • Focus on your breath. Feel the air wisp in and through your lungs with no effort on your part other than to receive the gift of oxygen from the Creator, letting it flow in and through you.
Find Your Feet

Place your feet flat on the floor. Notice the connection between them and the earth that lies underneath the room you are in.  Feel the sensations in your feet as they rest on the floor. Even better—go outside with bare feet and feel the cool grass or the sand at the beach. There’s something calming about touching the earth with your skin. It seems to connect us to our Creator, to our God.

As you move throughout the day, take a moment to “find your feet” as way of re-grounding yourself in the Presence of each moment.

Nature Speaks

Take a walk around your neighborhood or at a park. Notice God’s abundant creation. Pay attention to the flowers, the grass, the birds—and all the tiny critters who inhabit our space with us.

Let some part of nature “find you” as the Creator surprises you through the landscape of your heart.

Could Meditation be a Game-Changer for You?

The ancient practice of daily meditation has grown in popularity throughout the last decade thanks to the many men and women who have taught its vital importance in the Christian faith.  Some would say this resurgence in personal meditation practice is the work of the Holy Spirit calling us to take time each day to be alone with God, allowing the Whisper of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the pathway of Divine Love.

Could it be that simple?  Is daily meditation God’s game-changer for you and the Universe?

—brian j plachta

Check out Mark 1:35 to see how Jesus meditated:
“Before daybreak, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.”

by brian j plachta on July 12th, 2019

Scripture tells us, “God is love,” and “God so loved the world he sent his only son that we might have eternal life.” Neat concepts, but these familiar lines can lose their impact and become ho hum when they don’t touch our hearts.

We might put these words into context to let them take on new life in and through us.
Maybe we can pull out a divine recipe card, a spoon, and a mixing bowl, and cook up a deeper understanding of what God’s been up to in his Kitchen for trillions of years as the Divine Baker.

Here’s a theory to chew on.

The First Creation

What if God—who is Divine Love—decided a billion years ago he wanted to place his Spirit into matter.  He thought it would be neat to sprinkle the ingredient of Divine Love, his DNA, into plants and birds, lions and tigers, lakes and streams, stars and planets, cats and dogs. 

And then he got another idea—how about I create humans too, and place my seed of Divine Love in them? And poof, God’s dream became a reality as he spooned his Divinity into our humanity.

God then stepped back and looked at all he created. He smiled a divine smile as he saw his Spirit of Love sparkling in matter. And it was good. Beautiful.

The Second Creation

Then millenniums later, God wanted to remind humans of how much the Creator loves us because we’d forgotten. He wanted to give another tangible example of his unconditional love. So, the Creator put Jesus into the world.  Jesus’ feet walked the earth’s soil for thirty-three years. St. Paul described him as the One who did good, and God was with him.

God was happy seeing how his son loved, healed, and taught us we are love and loved.
But we got confused. We didn’t understand the Divine Recipe. Jesus was too much for us—too much love—and so we beat him up and put him to death so nobody would follow in his footsteps.

Even while suffering, however, Jesus continued to say, “I love you unconditionally. You can do anything to me, spit at me, mock me, and nail my arms and legs onto a tree, and I will still love you.”

And he did.

God then completed his Recipe by sending the Holy Spirit, and placing the Divine Spirit into our human hearts
. The Holy Spirit now lives within us to guide, give wisdom, and remind us we are loved—and we are love.

The Third Creation
If God is the Divine Baker, his desire is to continually pour more love into the batter of the universe. So, God lets us become part of the Divine Recipe.  We are the rest of God’s unfolding story.
We co-create with God through the help of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, we’re invited to do good, and God is with us as we become part of God’s plan.

The cool thing is, we get to choose the ingredients of how we incarnate the Creator’s love in the world.

When we give a hug, smile at a stranger, birth a child, or serve bread to the hungry, we become part of God’s desire to place Divine Spirit into matter as we multiply love.

With the Divine Recipe in mind, the words, “God so loved the world” take on new meaning because we are the ingredients through which the Creator mixes more Love into the world.

And the Divine Recipe’s not complete without your life. You and I are the third creation.

As Saint Teresa says, Christ has no body now but ours, so we’ve been given the freedom and responsibility to become part of the Universal mixing bowl of Love.

The Holy Baker invites us to move with compassion and grace into the world’s kitchen—to knead and spread love into the dough of our lives and the lives of all we encounter.

The Divine Baker’s Recipe is simple: we are love(d).

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on July 5th, 2019

My buddy encouraged me years ago to join him for daily gym workouts. He’d faithfully meet me at the Y most weekdays at 6 a.m. We joked that like Hans and Frans on Saturday Night Live, we were there to “Pump it up!”

Some workouts were great. My muscles twanged like fine-tuned rubber bands, thanking me for stretching and helping them grow.

Other days were tough. My muscles screamed, “You’re killing me! Quit this insanity!”

Our workouts consisted of the pleasant tension between pain and joy. The hard work of exercise stretched, strained, and sometimes hurt like heck, yet the long-term effects of feeling healthy and strong made the daily effort worth it.

Like our physical bodies, our spiritual bodies also need daily exercise to flex and grow so they don’t become flabby. Our hearts are the spiritual parts of our being that contain our souls. They’re our lifeline to God and our core self.  

When we take time each day to connect with our inner selves through quiet times of solitude such as meditating, taking morning or evening walks, journaling, creating art, or spending time in nature, we exercise our spirits so we can listen deeply and hear the quiet voice of wisdom and truth.

Exercising our spiritual muscles has the same pleasant tension as working out at the gym. Some days we sit in solitude and feel the connection between God and our souls. The thin veil between the Divine Heart and our human hearts swooshes open. We experience love, peace, and inner guidance.

Other times, we fidget during our times of solitude. The monkey mind won’t stop its incessant chatter. We strain and stress and feel disconnected. At those times, we’re tempted to stop showing up for our soul work because we can’t see the results.

However, like going to the gym each day, if we continue our daily spiritual exercises, we eventually experience the fruit of our inner work—our connection with our core selves and with God grows stronger.

We feel blessed when a loved one gives us a hug, a client thanks us for a project well done, or a robin chirps sweetly. We stop and give thanks more frequently. And as we brush our teeth before bed, the smile winking back at us in the mirror reflects the joy taken up residence in our hearts.

On those days when the dog poops on our new carpet, a loved one criticizes our efforts, or we slip and twist an ankle, our daily routine of spiritual exercises softens our response. Instead of staying stuck in the why-me mode, we calmly clean up our pet’s mess as we realize we can be messy too; we walk away from a fight with a loved one, gently standing in the truth of knowing who we really are; and we listen to the throb of our sore ankle inviting us to slow our pace, to take time to rest and recharge.

Exercising our spiritual muscles allows us to accept the pleasant tension between life’s joy and suffering.

Joy encourages our spirits to be kind—to smile and compliment the checkout clerk who looks like she’s having a bad day; to give a word of encouragement to a struggling friend; or to visit our lonely aunt in a nursing home. And when we see the results of joy—when the love we give is returned—we’re encouraged to love and live with greater joy.

Suffering teaches our hearts that pain is also a necessary part of our spirits’ workout. When a friend says “let’s have lunch” but never returns our text to schedule it; when a co-worker goes behind our back to tattle to the boss how we’ve messed up on a project; when we give our last ounce of love to someone who fails to notice it—on those days, suffering is there to stretch our hearts to grow in unconditional love and patience.

We rarely like suffering, and sometimes we get too busy to notice love. Yet, when we learn how to Pump It Up!, ours souls move to an ever-deepening level of spiritual fitness.

—brian j plachta


by brian j plachta on June 27th, 2019

We go through life often thinking there’s something wrong with us. There’s a voice inside our heads that mummers some part of us is flawed, broken, in need of repair. That voice wreaks havoc on our psyche, telling us we need to make ourselves “right.”

Fixing ourselves becomes our life’s project. 

That nagging voice comes from an untruth we learned as we grew up. Like a dandelion root, it grows slowly beneath the surface of our personalities. Sometimes it’s nurtured by faith traditions that overemphasize sin instead of God’s unconditional love. Other times it comes from family members through mocking, cruel words, or manipulation. Over time, the untruth blooms in our psyche like a dandelion weed scattering seeds of discontent within us, choking us off from sowing the good seed of love toward ourselves and others.

It’s time we grab a shovel and dig the dandelion root out. Time to go to the source of our learned untruth, and replace it with the real truth.

The other day while driving I was stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Ball and Plymouth streets.  As I waited for the light to turn green, a gentle whisper rose up in my gut saying,

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”  

What? I pondered.

There’s nothing to fix,” the words echoed in my heart.

In that moment, sixty years of self-doubt unearthed as the words exposed the root of untruth I had fostered all those years. It was if an angel had come and lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders.

Later that week, I shared my experience with my spiritual director.  He helped me realize that that moment at the intersection of Ball and Plymouth was a moment of divine grace; a time when the thin veil between God and ourselves parts, and the Creator touches our souls.

Sure, we all have parts of ourselves that need to mature. But when we stop beating ourselves up with falsehoods and self-doubt, we’re able to name our shadow side, embrace it with love, bring it into the light, so God help us evolve into the best version of ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with us
. That’s the truth God revealed in that moment of grace.

The world needs each of us to let go of the false tales we’ve told ourselves, so we can dig deep into the truth: we are the expression of God’s love in the world. Before we were conceived, God decided he needed each one of us to complete the universe, to receive and sow God’s divine love in and through us and out into Creation. As God breathed his first breath into our lungs at our birth, God proclaimed, “You are good.”

What’s the false tale you’ve told yourself over the years?  Where might God be nudging you to pick up your shovel and unearth the weeds of falsehood that choke our souls?

Can you open your heart and allow grace to help you embrace the truth, “You are good. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

—brian j plachta

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